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New Brunswick church fires youth volunteer because he is gay

'They said it was to protect me from creating a potential uproar,' says Colin Briggs

Colin Briggs during a stint volunteering in Haiti.

A 20-year-old Frederictonian has been fired from a volunteering job with a New Brunswick church after the ministry learned that he is openly gay.

Colin Briggs was a volunteer youth pastor with the Crosspoint Wesleyan Church in Fredericton's North End until Sept 18, when the church's head pastor called Briggs into his office to let him know that his services would no longer be welcome.

Briggs tells Xtra that there was no forewarning of his firing. He was called into Mark Brewer's office and let go.

"They just said that it was to protect me from creating a potential uproar with parents," Briggs says. "They didn't want me to be the focus."

Briggs had volunteered for the church for two years prior, and he says there had never been any problems. He came out of the closet last year and suspects the church found out only in the past several months.

Xtra reached out to Brewer and other members of the church, but they all refused to comment, instead referring all questions — including those asking whether the church maintains discriminatory hiring practices and its position on homosexuality — to a sermon posted on the website.

In the video, Brewer iterates that "all people are welcome through the doors of Crosspoint Church." Yet he admits that the church let Briggs go.

"We made the decision to ask a volunteer to step down after much discussion and much prayer," Brewer says in the video, noting these types of situations "often have deeper and more complex issues than what appear on the surface."

Briggs says this is his first real exposure to discrimination since coming out. He says he was upset after he was first let go, but since then, he's been heartened by those who have reached out to him. He says he's received emails from many people telling their own stories of facing discrimination from the church. Some have even chosen Briggs as the first person to whom they were open about their sexuality.

"It's been surreal, the amount of support I've gotten," he says. "It's sort of been an honour."

Brandon Ramey heard about Briggs's dismissal and broke the story for The New Brunswick Beacon, the newspaper of the St Thomas University's journalism program. He went to Crosspoint to hear Brewer's sermon.

"The mood of the church was really weird," he says. "The consensus of the congregation was that, yes, the pastor made the right decision."

Ramey says the sermon before the church was about twice as long as what was posted online.

The Wesleyan Church, a conservative evangelical sect of Protestantism, not only holds homosexuality to be a sin, but maintains that "people with a homosexual orientation can be healed of that orientation and become heterosexuals," according to the American-based church's website. Like several other Christian denominations, it believes that homosexuals can be sin-free only if they remain chaste.

As for whether he'll go back to the church, Briggs says he probably will.

"Eventually," he says. "After a little break."

Right now, he's worried about the stigma that will be attached to him if he goes back, due to the negative publicity he's stirred up for the church. But, he says, there have been "no hard feelings" between him and the pastor who fired him.

And he's not entertaining the idea of switching churches.

"I'm not one to give up on people."